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Decision No. 17,654

Appeal of ROBIN LORE-PRUE, on behalf of her children MADISON and JHANA PRUE, from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Long Beach regarding a school district boundary.

Decision No. 17,654

(June 12, 2019)

Frazer & Feldman, LLP, attorneys for respondent, Christie R. Jacobson, Esq., of counsel

ELIA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the decision of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Long Beach (“respondent” or “district”) to deny her request to admit her children, Madison and Jhana (the “children”), to its schools pursuant to Education Law §3203.  The appeal must be dismissed.

On or about August 30, 2015, petitioner registered her children in respondent’s schools from a leased address on Buffalo Avenue within respondent’s district.  In July 2016, in accordance with district policy, petitioner was required to re-register her children.[1]  The district mailed petitioner “Residency Verification Forms” to the Buffalo Avenue address.  Petitioner thereafter contacted respondent’s registrar, stating that she and her children had moved to an address on Clayton Avenue.  The registrar explained that “all” of the residences located on Clayton Avenue were within the Lawrence Union Free School District (“Lawrence”), and that petitioner was therefore no longer entitled to register her children in respondent’s schools because the Clayton Avenue address was not within respondent’s district.

On or about July 28, 2016, petitioner submitted a residency verification form with additional supporting documentation, including a July 7, 2006 annotated copy of a land survey of the Clayton Avenue property (updated August 1, 2016 to show the school district line); information obtained from Google Maps; an annotated copy of Education Law §3203 from a New York State Education Department website; and a July 26, 2016 letter from John Taylor, the owner of the Clayton Avenue property and petitioner’s landlord, which purportedly designated respondent’s district thereafter as the school district of attendance pursuant to Education Law §3203.

On July 29, 2016, respondent’s attorney advised respondent’s secretary for the superintendent that “the boundary between the districts does not appear to intersect the [Clayton Avenue] property at all.”  In an August 2, 2016 email, respondent’s attorney, while acknowledging that the exact location of the boundary was not completely clear, stated that:

[T]he survey provided by Mr. Taylor does not prove that the dwelling is intersected by the boundary line, and moreover, based on the long history of residents on Clayton Avenue attending Lawrence, Mr. Taylor’s designation should be denied.

However, the attorney stated that the district would be willing to reconsider the request of Mr. Taylor if he provided “evidence as to the location of the school district boundary in relation to the location of the dwelling on his property.”  Although not entirely clear from the record, it appears that the registrar informed petitioner by telephone that her residence was determined to be outside respondent’s district.  Petitioner appealed this determination to the superintendent.

By letter dated September 7, 2016, the superintendent informed petitioner that her appeal had been denied.  The superintendent stated that, based on “historic information,” petitioner’s residence was determined to be within Lawrence.  Moreover, the superintendent stated that petitioner’s claim that the boundary line intersected the Clayton Avenue property was not supported by Mr. Taylor’s documentary submissions.[2]  The superintendent reiterated that the district would reconsider petitioner’s request if Mr. Taylor was able to provide evidence “as to the location of the school district boundary in relation to the location of the dwelling on his property” and further stated that the district would also be willing to consider admitting petitioner’s children to its schools if petitioner paid non-resident tuition.

By agreement dated September 7, 2016, petitioner entered into a non-resident tuition contract with the district for both of her children to attend respondent’s schools.  According to respondent, petitioner never paid the district as required by this agreement.  On or about May 18, 2017, respondent’s counsel sent petitioner a demand letter.  Petitioner replied by letter dated June 13, 2017, disputing the validity of the contract and, consequently, her responsibility for the debt.  Petitioner also reiterated her claim that the Clayton Avenue residence was within respondent’s district.

By letter to petitioner dated July 10, 2017, respondent’s Executive Director for Pupil Services (“executive director”) stated that, upon the expiration of the contract for the 2016-2017 school year, petitioner’s children would be “exited” from the district.  The executive director further stated that no part of the Clayton Avenue address was within the district’s boundaries, and that if petitioner wished for her children to attend respondent’s schools on a tuition-free basis, she must relocate to a residence within the district’s boundaries.

On or about August 21, 2017, petitioner re-registered her children in respondent’s district, representing that, as of August 15, 2017, she had rented and moved into a property located on Brookline Avenue, which appears from the record to be located within the district’s boundaries.  Based on this information, respondent admitted petitioner’s children to its schools for the 2017-2018 school year.  Although respondent also requested that petitioner provide the district with additional information within 30 days of registration, there is no indication in the record that petitioner provided the requested information.  The district thereafter commenced an investigation into petitioner’s residency, which included surveillance.

In a letter to petitioner dated October 30, 2017, respondent’s executive director stated that the district had reason to believe that she did not reside at the Brookline Avenue address.  The executive director gave petitioner until November 3, 2017 to submit additional information to the contrary.  The executive director further stated that, absent sufficient proof of petitioner’s residency within respondent’s district, the students would be excluded from respondent’s schools at the close of business on November 3, 2017.

In response, petitioner submitted bills and other documents bearing the Brookline Avenue address.  Petitioner also asserted that the Brookline Avenue address was owned by a landlord, that the landlord had injured himself, and that petitioner had not yet moved all of her family’s possessions into the residence.

By letter dated November 6, 2017, the executive director informed petitioner of his determination that she did not reside at the Brookline Avenue address but, rather, that she resided at the Clayton Avenue address.  Furthermore, the executive director indicated that petitioner’s children would be excluded from respondent’s schools at the end of the school day on November 9, 2017.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on December 1, 2017.

Petitioner asserts that the documentary evidence which she submitted to respondent proves that the Clayton Avenue address is within respondent’s district.  Alternatively, petitioner argues that her children are entitled to attend respondent’s schools tuition-free, because the landlord of the Clayton Avenue address has designated respondent’s district as the school district of attendance.

Respondent argues that petitioner has resided outside of respondent’s school district at all times relevant to this appeal.  Respondent further asserts that no portion of the Clayton Avenue property passes through the school district’s boundary line and that, even if it did, petitioner may not make a designation pursuant to Education Law §3203 because she is not the owner of the property.

The appeal must be dismissed as moot.  The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 id. 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937).  Following submission of the pleadings in this appeal, my Office of Counsel requested information regarding the enrollment status of petitioner’s children pursuant to section 276.5 of the Commissioner’s regulations.  By affirmation dated May 7, 2019, respondent’s counsel submitted information that, based on new evidence establishing petitioner’s residency, her children have been admitted to respondent’s schools for the 2018-2019 school year at a new address, apparently located within respondent’s district.  Given respondent’s subsequent admission of the students as residents, the appeal is moot (see Appeal of He, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,299).

To the extent that either respondent or petitioner seek a determination regarding the residency status of the petitioner’s children during any part of the 2017-2018 school year, or for prior years, any such determination would be advisory in nature (see e.g. Appeal of He, 57 Ed Dept Rep,  Decision No. 17,299; Appeal of Morris, 57 id., Decision No. 17,175; Appeal of Strassburg, 56 id., Decision No. 16,931).  It is well established that the Commissioner does not issue advisory opinions or declaratory rulings in an appeal pursuant to Education Law §310 (Appeal of He, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,299; Appeal of Leake, 57 id., Decision No. 17,235; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 id. 411, Decision No. 15,899).  Therefore, as there is no further relief that may be granted, the appeal is dismissed as moot.

In light of this disposition, I need not consider the parties’ remaining contentions.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

 

[1] The record contains a copy of respondent’s policy 7130 with respect to “re-registration,” which states as follows:  “In the fifth ... and eighth ... grades, families will be required to complete a re-registration form so that the district will have complete and accurate information about student residency.”  Although petitioner does not raise any objections or arguments with respect to this policy, I note that, in July 2018, the State Education Department (“Department”) issued guidance on the practice of mandatory “re-registration” wherein all parents and guardians are required to “re-register” their students prior to the start of school.  The Department’s guidance states, in pertinent part, as follows:  “While the [Commissioner’s] regulations [8 NYCRR §100.2(y)] recognize that school districts may make determinations throughout the school year that certain individual students are no longer district residents subsequent to initial enrollment or re-entry, the regulations do not contemplate the practice ... of requiring all students to ‘re-register’ with the district regardless of whether a question exists as to the residency status of each individual student (emphasis omitted).”  The Department’s guidance is available at:  http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/residencyguidance-memo.7-19-18.p... While respondent may take appropriate steps to update and/or verify student information, as needed, respondent should immediately review its policies and procedures with respect to enrollment and registration to ensure that compliance with applicable laws and regulations, as well as the Department’s guidance.

 

[2] On appeal, respondent claims that, historically, residents of properties on the Malone Avenue side of the boundary line attend its schools.  Respondent further states that for those properties on the Clayton Avenue side of the boundary line (like petitioner’s), residents attend the Lawrence Union Free School District.